Sacred geometry

Sunday Morning Instructions

Date1st October 2006
Retreat/SeriesSilent Autumn Retreat, Finland 2006


The Buddha was someone who discovered for himself a true and lasting and profound freedom in this life, the possibility of that. And then, out of compassion, he wanted to share that with other people so that we and others could also discover that freedom for ourselves. So he described a path that would lead people to that freedom, and offered it out of compassion. In that path, one element -- actually two elements, what I wanted to touch on this morning -- are very key, very important. They are this word, 'mindfulness,' which is a word that maybe everyone has already heard. Is it a word that's common, mindfulness? Is there a Finnish word for mindfulness? Okay. [laughs] So if I just use the English word, mindfulness, what I want to do now and this evening is to go into a little more detail what it means and what it involves. So mindfulness, and then a Pali word which is samatha. Pali is the language that the Buddha spoke, and this word samatha. These two words I want to go into a little bit.

So mindfulness. It's very central to the path. It's very important, very key. In a way, it's something extremely simple, and in another way, there are aspects to it, and it's quite complicated what it is. So I want to go into this. Mindfulness, in a way, is just the human capacity, the ability that we all have to pay attention, to be aware of something, to focus our attention on something, and through that attention, to investigate, see if we can learn something. So humans have the ability to be aware, which we share with animals, we share with all consciousness. But what we also have is the ability to know that we are being aware, to know when we are paying attention and when we are not. This is something unique to human beings. We know when we're present, and we know when we're not.

So this factor of mindfulness, which I'm going to talk about, is very central to the path, but sometimes, in some traditions, it gets treated as the whole of the path, like that's the most important thing or all of the path. Now, it's indispensable, it's completely necessary, but it's not all of the path, okay? We begin to cultivate, to develop this quality of mindfulness, which means we begin to pay attention to our life. Most human beings, most of us go through our lives relating to life, looking at life through kind of a veil of concepts and ideas. We actually are not meeting life directly. We have an idea of how we are, of how others are, of how life is, of how the world is, of how things are. And we meet the world through this layer of ideas. Mindfulness is actually getting underneath that layer. Can we meet life directly, intimately? Not our ideas about ourselves or about reality, but actually to meet it directly so that we're not sleepwalking through life where I don't quite know what's going on. Are we alive for life?

So the Buddha recommended certain areas in particular that we pay attention to in our life, and I'll go into that this evening, and over the days we'll be unfolding that. But particularly the areas where we tend to have difficulty. This is what he recommended paying attention to. We could say, what is mindfulness? It's something very simple. We could say it's being present for life. Am I there? Am I living? Am I alive? Being in the present moment, being right here, right now? A lot of this you may have heard already. It's very simple, very simple. When we come to meditation practice and we sit and we walk and we sit and we walk, it's very common that we may have the idea -- even if we've been practising for a while -- that meditation is about getting rid of thought: if I have thinking, I want to somehow squash it or destroy it. The object of mindfulness is something different than that. We're not trying to get rid of thought. That's not what we're trying to do. Mindfulness, rather, knows what is in awareness. It knows what is going on. It knows what is in the mind. It knows what's in the body. And knows what's in the senses, sound, sight, touch, taste and smell. Rather than getting rid of, it's knowing what's in the senses.

So if we're meditating and there's thinking going on, mindfulness just knows: ah, there's thinking going on. If sometimes for some people there's very little thinking going on, mindfulness knows: ah, there's very little thinking going on. Or there's no thinking going on, maybe. Mindfulness knows: no thinking going on. Mindfulness does not judge. As far as mindfulness is concerned, all that is the same. Thinking, a lot of thinking, a little thinking, no thinking -- doesn't matter. What matters is that we know what's going on. If the mind feels calm, mindfulness knows: ah, the mind feels calm. If the mind feels agitated, mindfulness knows: the mind feels agitated. So right away, this, in a way, makes the programme of meditation a little bit less pressured.

One meaning of mindfulness is just to be present. And another meaning: to know what's going on, to know what's going on in the mind. A third meaning -- and actually the way the Buddha used it originally, it's less common to use it this way -- is mindfulness means to keep something in the mind. So we will be working with the breath. We keep the breath in awareness. But it could be anything, and as the week goes by we're expanding the instructions, so we keep the body sensations in the mind, we keep the emotions, the thoughts, everything. Mindfulness means to keep something in the mind. Why do we keep something in the mind? What for? One aspect is so that we can then investigate that thing. We can investigate the thinking life, which gives us so much trouble, or the emotional life, which is often quite difficult and confused, or we can investigate the life of the body. So we keep something in mind for the sake of understanding our relationship with it. That's one reason why we keep things in the mind.

[9:18] A second reason, though, is very important: for the development of calmness. When the mind stays with one thing over a period, keeps returning to that one thing, slowly, gradually, the mind can grow calm. Instead of being here, there, everywhere, worrying about tomorrow and yesterday, the mind begins gradually to develop this calmness. This calmness, that's one of the meanings of this word, samatha, that I mentioned before. It can be translated as calmness. So this practice that we're doing over the days involves the development of calmness as well as the development of this mindfulness for investigation. The two go together, and they're equally important, calmness and investigation. So the calmness not only is good for the well-being of the mind and the body, but it helps the investigation. When the mind is calm, we can see. The Buddha said it's like a lake. When the surface of the lake grows still, when the lake grows clear, then we can look into the lake and see what's on the bottom -- it's very clear.

So this samatha, sometimes called samādhi, another Pali word, calmness, unification of mind. That means instead of the mind being all over the place -- over there, over there, what do I have to do tomorrow, what happened yesterday, why did I say that, da-da-da-da; typical, normal human mind, running a hundred miles an hour -- the mind becomes collected, unified. With the body, a kind of unification takes place gradually. So calmness, unification. Usually it's translated as concentration, but I don't particularly like that word because it tends to mean almost like squeezing the mind into a small place, which is not such a good translation. It's more like unification, calmness, steadiness of mind. In that calmness, we develop a sensitivity as well. We need that sensitivity for this investigation. So the mind grows calm and grows sensitive, and we can begin to look into our life.

Now, developing calmness is quite a difficult skill. It's something that comes gradually. But if we think about all the possible things that a human being can become skilled in, can become good at, you know, we can learn so many things in life. I could be a champion Nintendo player, you know, Space Invaders. That's okay, but kind of ... so what? So what? There's so many things that I could be good at, that I could devote my time to, but learning the skill of calming the mind, of unifying the mind, this is really a worthwhile skill. This is something that really will be of great benefit to us in our lives. Sometimes we decide, "I want to help others. I want to do some service." Unless that steadiness of mind is there, it's very hard to keep steady in our work. Or we have a creative project that we want to do, and it needs a steadiness of application. So this samatha, this samādhi, also is important for this in our life. It's not something particular to meditation. A steadiness of attention, steadiness of being, really, really worthwhile.

We were talking this morning at breakfast. Apparently Finnish people drink the most coffee in the whole world. I didn't know this until this morning. So coffee is fine. You'll probably find, though, on a meditation retreat, if you drink coffee all day, your mind will be da-da-da-da. So that's the opposite of samatha. Maybe if you feel like you really need to drink coffee, there's already a bit of an addiction there, maybe just one cup in the morning and see if that can keep you going. Then the mind can settle down a bit. If you feel like you don't really need a cup of coffee, maybe just forget the coffee altogether and drink tea or whatever. Like I said, if you drink coffee all day, there might be a little agitation that might make the meditation a bit more difficult. Have a feel for what you feel is best for yourself.

Okay. So there are two aspects of mindfulness that I want to bring out. The first aspect is called bare attention. So b-a-r-e, not the big, furry animal. Bare attention. What does it mean, bare attention? It means, similar to what I was saying before, coming close to our experience, really touching our experience, the texture of our experience, intimately, directly. So instead of relating to life, to the body, to the breath, to walking, to sight, through this layer of concepts that we usually do -- words and images and ideas and memories -- this bare attention is to come close, to come right up direct. So when we do the breath, how does it actually feel? Not my ideas about the breath or my images or visualizations, but how does it actually feel? When we do the walking meditation, how does it actually feel, the bare, raw, simple experience of life? This is precious. This is something really beautiful. Living, really touching life directly.

So this bare attention is one aspect. Second aspect is what's called clear comprehension. This is a technical word. Clear comprehension means -- I touched on it before -- knowing what's going on. So if we're walking, I know I'm walking. If the breath is coming in, we know it's coming in. If it's going out: ah, the breath's going out. If we're eating, we know we're eating. If we're looking, we know we're looking. So this clear comprehension means just to know what's going on. These two aspects, bare attention and clear comprehension, are very important. Can be with the breath, can be with anything, like I said. Together, they're very grounding. They make us very connected with the body, very connected with our life, with the present moment, with the earth, instead of being off in daydreaming, fantasy, and memory.

So all of this, this mindfulness and this samatha, it's all a practice. This is really, really important. To realize it's a gradual, usually slow development of these qualities. And it's non-linear. In other words, it's not smooth, how we develop these qualities. We practise in formal meditation, on the cushion, on the chair, in the walking periods, but we also practise it in our lives. The whole time is for practising mindfulness. What we realize is that we have a habit of inattention. It's so strong, our habit of actually not paying attention to life. So this actually is the first insight, often, of meditation practice. I remember when I first meditated, I was thinking, "Okay, great," and you see there's this complete madness inside, chaos of thoughts and memories and thinking, and how little time I'm actually paying attention to the present moment. This is an insight: I have a habit, lifetime, decades of not paying attention. So just to recognize, we are going against, we are changing that habit, and it's a gradual process.

[19:00] So just to see that that habit is there is an important thing. We can return over and over to the intention to be present, to be mindful. We intend to be mindful, we start thinking about tomorrow or lunch or what happened yesterday or whatever, and we just see that and we come back, over and over and over. We bring the attention back really an infinite number of times. You can't even count how many times this will happen, even in one meditation sitting. Countless, countless times. Really important not to judge this process. To have a little bit of a bigger picture, we are developing mindfulness and developing calmness, definitely, but we are also developing non-judgmentalism, letting go of judgment. So we try and meditate, we try and be in the present, and we see, "Ah, I'm thinking about tomorrow." It's okay. Can I just notice that and come back? Without so much judgment. Not getting so involved in judgment. Maybe we have a habit of judging ourselves. That's okay. But can we not feed that habit? Can we just see, notice, and come back, with some kindness? Really important. So we're not just interested in being super concentrated meditators. That's not the only important thing. Maybe more important is this attitude of kindness and gradually letting go of the judgment. Maybe that's more important.

We're developing mindfulness, we're letting go of judgment. Also developing patience. Definitely, definitely this practice needs patience. So again, every time we see, "I'm off. The mind is off again," it's okay. It's really, really okay. Can there be patience with that? Can I also develop this quality of patience? Maybe that's equally important. So every time the mind goes off and you bring it back, the mind goes off and you bring it back, the mind goes off and you bring it back, what's happening? Every time I notice it's off, there's a moment of mindfulness there. That's good. That's really good. It's a moment of wakefulness. And the bringing the mind back and actually strengthening this muscle, and slowly it gets big, and the mind gets powerful, it gets strong. And a strong mind is a happy mind. So when the mind is off, not to think, "I can't meditate." This very noticing and bringing it back, noticing and bringing it back, that is meditation. You are meditating just by noticing and bringing it back over and over. There's no such thing as "I can't meditate."

Okay. So if you feel like stretching for thirty seconds or whatever, because you've been sitting for a while. Then we'll do a meditation on the breath. Okay. So like we mentioned last night, there are plenty of upright chairs, so if you do like to sit on the floor but it's actually a bit uncomfortable or it gets very uncomfortable, feel free to alternate the postures. You can have one sitting meditation sitting on the floor, one sitting in the chair. We'll talk about the body maybe tomorrow. The body is a very important aspect of meditation. But just to have some degree of comfort is important.

And then I think later this morning we'll also have a session on posture, so for anyone who needs some help with meditation posture, we'll talk about that. With the posture, the most important thing is that the back is upright, is straight. So if you're on a chair, if you don't have too much back problems, if it's possible to not lean back on the back of the chair, that's great. If you have a problem with your back and you need to, it's completely fine. But if possible the back is supporting itself. And the eyes can be closed, just lightly closed, comfortable. The posture reflecting this quality of uprightness, but not in a rigid way. Still also reflecting some relaxation, some softness, some openness, especially in the chest area. The body is upright, alert, but also soft.

[25:46, guided meditation begins]

Just taking a moment to check in. How does the face feel right now? If you can notice any obvious areas of tension around the eyes, around the mouth, around the jaw, just letting go, relaxing that tension just as much as possible -- not necessarily to let go of all of it right now. Similarly, feeling in to the neck and the throat, and relaxing there. The shoulders, allowing them to drop down towards the floor. The chest area. The upper back. And then particularly the belly, the lower belly in particular, stomach area, just letting that really hang down, relax. And then getting a sense, feeling in to how the whole body feels right now, just sitting here. The sensations in the body, the sense of contact with the cushion, with the cushion, with the chair. The sensations of contact with the floor. Just feeling in to that simple sense.

And then beginning by taking some long, slow breaths. So not actually necessary to breathe very loud or to even move a lot of air, but just the breath coming, long and slow in, long and slow out. So as long and slow as is possible. Don't want to hyperventilate. Just filling the body with breath energy. Keeping the awareness as large as the whole body. So the whole body is actually filled with awareness, filled with attentiveness, with mindfulness. Seeing if you can notice now, if you can feel into, when the breath comes in, that the whole body expands a little bit, the whole body grows a little bit -- also is energized, there's a feeling of energy with the breath coming in. So keeping the awareness as large as the whole body. Just becoming sensitive to that expansion, the energization of the whole body. Keeping the breath long and slow and comfortable.

[31:57] With the out-breath, see if you can become aware, become sensitive to, there's a natural letting go, relaxation, that happens with the out-breath. The body just contracts. Seeing if you can feel into that in your whole body. So energizing and expanding with the in-breath, letting go, relaxing, contracting with the out-breath. Keeping the breath long, smooth, comfortable. And keeping the awareness as large as the body. So the awareness will tend to shrink, will tend to grow smaller. See if you can just keep making it as large as the body, a wide awareness. Just feeling into the energizing, the expanding with the in-breath, the relaxing, letting go with the out-breath. Feeling that throughout the body.

Within that large awareness, maybe you can see, how does it feel up the spine when the breath comes in? How does it feel up the body, along the spine? How does it feel in the face, in the head when the breath goes in, when the breath goes out? Maybe you feel some movement of energy there. Maybe not. It's fine. You can also just be with the sense of expansion in the whole body. Maybe you notice, too, how does it feel in the legs when the breath comes in and comes out? Maybe you feel something there. Maybe not. Keeping the awareness large and just being sensitive.

See if you can notice right now, if you can discern what the most comfortable way to breathe is, how the body would like to breathe now. So maybe that's keeping the breath long, or maybe it's short. Maybe it's a rough breath or a smooth breath. Maybe the breath wants to be very coarse or very subtle. Just seeing if you can tell. So not just your ordinary way of breathing, but what feels the most enjoyable, the most comfortable for the body, and then allowing yourself to breathe that way, allowing the body to breathe that way. If there is some feeling of comfort or of enjoyment with the breath, then really including that in the practice, really allowing that sense even if it's just quiet, just a little bit. Allowing that into the practice. If the breath feels uncomfortable, feels stuck or blocked, then that's quite okay. It's not a problem. Just seeing if you can relax around the discomfort of the breath. Awareness can just accommodate that discomfort.

And when the mind wanders, as it will, just noticing that. No need for judgment. No need to analyse where the mind has gone or why. Just noticing and returning to connect with the breath, just over and over and over. Being very patient with yourself, very patient with the mind. So filling the body with awareness, filling the whole body with awareness. Filling the whole body with breath energy. For the last minute of the sitting, just letting the breath go, and being in the body, but allowing the awareness to open up to sound, to listening. So there's sound and there's silence, and awareness is very wide, just receiving sounds, receiving silence.

When the bell goes, giving a really full attentiveness to the bare sound of the bell. So right from its beginning, through its life, to its end, just really paying very close attention to the sound. [bell sounds]

[52:42, guided meditation ends]

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry